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Barley soup from Tomato Head’s Mahasti Vafaie

WellTuned asked Mahasti Vafaie, owner of Knoxville’s The Tomato Head restaurants, to share a soup recipe that would satisfy our desire for savory, filling food, while still being good for you.

“I was recently visiting my aunt and she showed me how to create a barley soup that I remembered from my childhood in Iran, but I didn’t have the recipe for and had not been able to recreate,” Mahasti says. “The recipe is based on my memory of the soup from Shahrazad’s restaurant in Isfahan, Iran.”

Mahasti came to the U.S at age 14 to live with her then 17-year-old sister who was studying at Middle Tennessee State University. After receiving a degree in engineering science and mechanics at the University of Tennessee, Mahasti had a brief career as an engineer before opening The Tomato Head in 1990.

As a self-taught chef, she has created most of the restaurant’s menu items herself, driven by her desire to serve fresh, healthy food. In addition to two Tomato Head restaurants, Mahasti operates Tomato Head Foods, which offers craft-made hummus, pesto and salad dressings, as well as the Flour Head Bakery, an artisan baker of breads and pastries.

Barley soup is rich in nutrients and the fiber in it promotes a feeling of fullness. It even improves digestion. Here’s Mahasti’s recipe for Persian Barley Soup:


1.5 cups Pearled Barley
6 cups Water
1/2 cup Carrot, peeled and shredded
1.5 – 2 tsp Salt
¼ tsp Black Pepper
1 cup Milk
¼ cup Half and Half


Prepare the barley. Look barley over for rocks. Place the barley in a colander, and rinse well. Pour the rinsed barley into a medium bowl, cover with enough water to cover the barley by 2 inches. Cover and let rest on your counter overnight.

The next day, when ready to make the soup, drain and rinse the barley and place it in a medium pot. Add 6 cups of water and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 45- 50 minutes until barley is soft, with a little bit of chew.

With the pot still over low heat: Add shredded carrots, salt, pepper, milk and half and half. Bring the soup back to simmer.

Remove from heat. Serve with a wedge of lemon for squeezing into the soup if desired.

Serves 4-6

Note: This soup will thicken considerably in the refrigerator. To reheat, simply add water and bring the soup to the consistency that you like.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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